ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education approved a Tennessee company to manage the district’s planned employee health center – but not before a heated debate about the clinic’s merits.
Board member Peggy Muller-Aragón came out strongly against the center during Wednesday’s board meeting, calling it a “white elephant” that does not benefit kids.
She cast the only vote against contracting with Premise Health to run the clinic, which will be built with $4.9 million from the bond and mill levy supported by voters Feb. 2.
The center will cost another $2.7 million to operate in its first year, rising to around $4 million by the fourth year as more employees use the facility, according to board documents.
That is much more than a $1.5 million estimate provided by APS in the weeks before the bond/mill levy election.
On Wednesday, Muller-Aragón said she has received many calls from constituents who want to know “who lied to the board about the annual operating costs” and whether that person has been disciplined.
Chief Operations Officer Ruben Hendrickson responded that the $1.5 million figure was provided “off the cuff” by a risk manager who is no longer with APS and it “stuck.”
“That was perpetuated down the line,” he said.
Muller-Aragón said APS should be more careful about stressing when a number is just an estimate.
She also questioned claims that the clinic will save the district money by better managing employee health issues, particularly chronic conditions.
“Any of you out there who are saying there will be cost savings, are you willing to stake your jobs on those cost savings? Because next year I am going to demand definite cost savings,” she told APS staff.
Another point of contention for Muller-Aragón: the four-year contract is going to a health provider from the Nashville area, not a local business.
Presbyterian, a New Mexico company, was among 12 bidders for the work, but APS eliminated it because it could not provide all the requested services, according to district documents.
While Muller-Aragón was emphatically negative, other board members spoke in favor of the employee health center.
Lorenzo Garcia said he feels it will improve teachers’ lives and thus benefit students.
“I think we have an opportunity to move the district forward,” he said. “I think in this case, as far as I can tell, we were very rigorous in our process to ensure that this would be a wise investment for us as a district,” he said.
The clinic could open as soon as January 2017, although administrators have not settled on a location for it.